The Latest in RFID’s Ongoing Evolution

The next wave of RFID will help with more than just inventory

Nothing has changed the way jewelers do inventory in the past decade as profoundly as RFID (radio frequency identification). The wireless technology, which uses radio frequency electromagnetic fields to transfer data, has shortened the work of taking stock by using hand-held devices that recognize tags attached to pieces of jewelry. Whereas it once took an hour to make sure every engagement ring in the store was present and accounted for, it now takes five minutes.

But the capabilities of RFID have increased in the past year, delivered via slick, new stand-alone and add-on devices from such companies as TJS, Gem-Where, and TracTech. And future retail applications are sure to make the technology even more ubiquitous. Here’s the latest in RFID’s ongoing evolution.

An Uptick in Information

Where RFID was (and still is, for the most part) used solely to take stock of a store’s inventory, its delivery systems now are able to generate more sophisticated reports—ones that can help retailers merchandise and market with pinpoint accuracy to customers. Vendors now are offering pad RFID readers, which double as display trays for customers.

TJS’ wireless pad scanner, for example, “sheds light on blind spots that point-of-sale systems don’t have today,” says CEO Johnny Hazboun. When used consistently by staffers, the pad offers robust reports on various details, including how many times an item was shown, number of times shown items were sold, and which salespeople showed which items (and how many times they showed them).

“Say Belinda showed a ring two times and sold one, and Gary showed the same ring 10 times and sold none,” hypothesizes Hazboun. “That starts to tell you things about your salespeople and about your items. You’re starting to get real intelligence about your inventory.”

Keven Peck, CEO of TracTech, which also sells a wireless pad reader, adds that the intel makes it possible to determine “which cases are being utilized, and which items should be discounted or returned to the vendor.”

On the Horizon

The applications of RFID in both inventory management and direct selling remain largely untapped, adds Peck: “People are not using the full functionality of RFID yet. But in the future the retailer will be able to monitor real-time inventory in his showcases. He will be sitting at his computer and know when a tray is moved and where.” (That technology, by the way, is available, but at a hefty price. “Most jewelers are not ready to spend $50,000,” Peck says.)

What likely will be refined in the near future is RFID’s ability to pair up pieces of jewelry with other pieces in the store. For example, “Here’s the ring and a matching wedding band,” says Peck, acting out a fictitious sales transaction, “and here it is in white gold. The RFID would suggest and show options.”

While RFID makes perfect sense for the high-value jewelry industry, the technology will probably really blossom in the retail fashion industry. Coming soon: dressing rooms with potent persuasive powers. When you try on a pair of pants, an RFID-powered­ unit will tell you what complementary items are available in your size and the exact location of the rack where you’ll find those items.

The jury’s still out on whether the digitized suggestions will be helpful or maddening. But according to Peck, one thing’s for sure: “Big brother will be over our shoulder.”

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